In a recent conversation with my fellow foodie friend Kathy, she told me of a place on Merriman Road where they grill your food on stones. Thinking she meant Steak on a Stone, I told her that the restaurant she was describing was on "Restaurant Hill" in Montrose, just off of Rt. 18 and I-77. Her persistence that something had opened up in The Valley where they are grilling food on stones made me just curious enough to drive through the area today to see what she was talking about.
What I discovered was that both of us were right. Steak On A Stone is indeed on "Restaurant Hill," but a new joint called Double Deckers had opened up at 1662 Merriman Road, Akron, OH 44313 about four months ago. While they currently have no website, they can be reached at 330-864-3663.
From the street, I was presented with my first bit of confusion:
Was this Double Deckers Gourmet Sandwich Makers or Stonegrill Dining? Maybe this was one of those joint ventures where two kitchens share one restaurant space. Intrigued, I walked in to find out more. I was immediately greeted by this display case:
The interior was nice, white linens on the tables and nicely wrapped silverware, but other aspects were a tad off-putting, such as these illuminated wall photos:
Interesting artwork to say the least, but it felt a bit kitschy. Very common in restaurants that serve up buffets, these felt discordant to the rest of the environment.
After chatting with my server for a little bit, I began to unravel the mystery of this restaurant. It seems that the owners of Double Deckers decided to blend in a secondary dining concept that originally started with an Australian company, Stonegrill Dining. The concept was to sear the protein on the first side, flip it over and bring it straight to the customer to allow them to cook it to their liking. While I suppose this will appeal to a number of diners out there, to me it seems akin to offering "self-checkout" lines at the local supermarket. Why on earth would I pay someone else for the privilege of cooking my own dinner? Part of the reason I go to a restaurant where I have the ability to order my food cooked to a certain degree of doneness is that I can expect it to come out of the kitchen cooked correctly. If it's not done correctly, there is an implied expectation that the restaurant will do whatever it takes to fix the problem, including re-firing the dish. By allowing customers to finish the cooking process, is the restaurant no longer liable? What happens if the customer overcooks her steak, does the restaurant supply her with another free of charge?
Before even opening the menu, I knew that today's excursion was going to be a pricey one. Here was a shot of the table flier advertising some of the available wines:
$18 for a SINGLE glass of wine? Seriously? I've had very nice bottles of wine for the same amount, much less one glass. And of all the wines listed, not a single one could be found for under $12. Honestly, it didn't really matter that much as I was there for lunch and wasn't really interested in a glass of wine at that time of day. Were I to be there during dinner hours, I'd probably still opt to stick with something non-alcoholic. Today I just decided to have a glass of water instead. And while I normally wouldn't include a shot of a glass of water, Double Deckers did present an interesting twist:
In lieu of the usual lemon slice, a strawberry slice garnered my glass instead. It didn't really add the aromatic note that a lemon or cucumber slice would normally give to the water, but it was a nice way to finish the meal, a free mini-dessert, if you will.
When I finally opened up the menu, I was assaulted with nearly five pages of options. Here was a shot of each page:
The final page was loose and described the lava rock options for today:
It turns out that the conclusion I had come to earlier about this being a pricey meal were spot on. I immediately started searching the menu for something on the cheaper side. Quite a few of the sandwiches are a la carte and if you want a side, you pay extra. After a great deal of contemplation, I narrowed in on a Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, and Hardboiled Egg sandwich for $10.50. This was one of the few sandwiches that came with a side; I choose the homemade carrot and mango slaw.
After about ten minutes or so, this was what I received from the kitchen:
This was a sizable sandwich and a healthy amount of slaw. Here was a shot of the side of the sandwich:
For $10.50, this had better deliver and be one hell of a BLT sandwich. Both the applewood smoked bacon and the hardboiled eggs were perfectly cooked and the eggs were sliced impossibly thin. The tomato had both a sweet and acidic edge. The bread was fresh and toasted just enough that it gave this mouth-filling sandwich enough integrity that it didn't disintegrate as I ate it.
While the sandwich comes with a side of the homemade Pink Costa Rica dressing, my server also brought me a small dish of (not homemade) mayonnaise.
I tried each half of the sandwich with a different topping. While both added a bit of moisture to the sandwich, neither really contributed anything to the overall flavor. I think that this was partly due to the fact that the saltiness of the bacon just masked the more delicate flavor of the sauces. The Pink Costa Rica was described to me as a cross between Ranch dressing and a tomato salsa. After tasting the dressing separately, I would tend to agree with that description.
After finishing my sandwich, I had to admit, it was a darn good sandwich. And very filling. I turned next to the carrot mango slaw:
This was an excellent interpretation of the common everyday cole slaw that seems to be offered at every other restaurant. My initial expectation was that the mango would be adding sweetness to the dish, but it turns out that they use mangoes that aren't ripe yet. Upon further reflection, this made sense to me for two reasons. First, getting ripe mangoes year round is an expensive proposition. Second, because the unripe mango is less sweet, the resulting slaw is much more balanced. Besides the obvious carrots, other flavors such as celery, scallions, and celery seed added to the overall flavor profile. The slaw dressing was creamy, sweet without being cloying, and had just a bit of acidity. I really did enjoy it as a side dish.
As I finished paying the check, I managed to grab one of the dinner menus that were available by the cash register. I wanted to look a little more closely at the Stonegrill Dining options when I had more time. Here was how the section on Stonegrill Dining was worded (including several mistakes):
"STONEGRILL Dining is famous worldwide for quality and exquisite flavor Originated in Australia now established in Europe, Asia, Canada and USA. In order to serve you the finest we process our own meats We use only Aged Prime Beef, which we have Aged for at least 30 days, for exceptional flavor and tenderness. Our steaks are hand cut and will vary in size and shapes. Seafood is selected on freshness and best availability from the world. Flown in overnight and processed for fabulous flavor."
Apparently they got the same person who does the Chinese to English menu translations to write the above paragraph. Ouch, my head hurts just trying to fill in the missing words and punctuation. I then decided to look at the starting points for the seafood to discover a very important point: not a single seafood selection was from the local area. Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Brazil, Mexico, Baja and South Africa were all starting points for this fairly expensive array of products that cost anywhere from $20 up to $55. If there was one thing that this menu espoused, it certainly wasn't how eco-friendly the ingredients were.
That being said, I am reluctant to outright damn them simply because of this fact. In all fairness, I enjoy eating sushi every now and again and I'm not foolish enough to think that the Yellowtail and Tuna I am enjoying while sitting in a Cleveland-based Japanese restaurant is coming from one of the Great Lakes. Hardly wanting to be labeled a hypocrite for telling you to avoid this restaurant because of their product sourcing policies, perhaps I'll just leave it at letting you, the gentle reader, make that decision for yourself after chewing on everything I've presented here today.
While I received a delicious and filling sandwich and side today at Double Deckers, my overall impression was that you could definitely get more value for your money someplace else. One final interesting note, the BLT with hardboiled egg that was $10.50 for lunch was listed on the dinner menu for $12.00. If price is an issue, it might be worth your while to check them out for lunch in order to save a bit on the check. However, if your lobster tails just HAVE to come from South Africa, then I would strongly suggest you give Double Deckers / Stonegrill Dining a chance.